NASCAR’s Silly Season has finally wound down, with most driver-team pairings settled on national series rosters. Quite a bit of shuffling has already shaken up the natural order of things, and new faces are getting accustomed to new cars, new numbers and new organizations.
All of these fresh pairings enter the 2020 season with a sense of optimism, but which new combinations have the best chance for success? NASCAR.com’s Zack Albert and George Winkler offer their picks for drivers expected to thrive in their new surroundings.
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Albert: Daniel Hemric. Though he’s dropping down a rung on the NASCAR national series ladder, Hemric has a grand opportunity to rejuvenate his career by running the majority of the Xfinity Series slate in 2020. He won’t even have to change his car number — No. 8 — in his shift from Cup Series duty with Richard Childress Racing to a new ride with JR Motorsports.
Jeb Burton is slated for 11 races in the No. 8, and team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. has indicated he’s in for one event this season, but Hemric will have the lion’s share of starts in a car that logged top-10 finishes in 23 of 33 races last year. He’ll also add continuity for a team with a rotating cast of nine drivers last season.
Hemric stood on the brink of winning during his most recent Xfinity Series campaign in 2018. Here’s betting he breaks down that wall this season.
Winkler: Matt DiBenedetto. “Family style” will continue to work for DiBenedetto, who moves from Leavine Family Racing to Wood Brothers Racing and a technical alliance with Team Penske. During the second half of last season, DiBenedetto built momentum with six top-10 finishes, including a memorable second-place run in the Bristol Night Race.
As a result, DiBenedetto had his best season statistically in the NASCAR Cup Series with career highs in top fives, top 10s and laps led. Look for that momentum to continue in 2020 with Wood Brothers Racing, where the five-year veteran driver will pair with crew chief Greg Erwin, who has five victories in Cup (all with Greg Biffle).
Based on average finish, DiBenedetto has had his best success on road courses, but his best finishes in 2019 came on a variety of tracks, showing that he can be a threat on any given weekend. Couple that with Team Penske’s reputation as a strong outfit on superspeedways, and there’s a good chance this will be the year that DiBenedetto finally breaks into the win column.